Time Structuring in Transactional Analysis

A while ago we took a detailed look at strokes in Transactional Analysis (1 & 2) and we saw how these strokes represent the foundation of, well, everything. They are – on a psychological level – as vital as the air we breathe. That being said, however, they are not the only elements which allow us to function in a healthy way. According to Transactional Analysis theory and not only, each person has a few basic needs and some other less vital ones. You’re probably thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs right now.

Maslow, Needs, Psychology, Pyramid

That is a good start. While the words might differ, the core ideas stay the same. In T.A., we talk about the need for recognition, stimulation and structure as being fundamental needs for each human being. Just like babies cannot survive without their mothers taking care of their physiological needs, they cannot survive without being stroked (for example, feeding the baby is a stroke). Same thing – different words.

While we already covered the need for recognition and stimulation, we never got to talk about the need for structure.

Because the possibilities are endless, so are the risks in interacting with others. Which means that we like (or at the very least prefer) to know what to expect, especially in situations that are less familiar. Time structuring offers just that.

Picture this: you start a new job in a place where you don’t know anyone. This will most probably make you feel uncomfortable or even bring you close to a panic attack. You don’t know any of those people. What if they are going to start an uncomfortable conversation with you? Or even worse – what if they are going to ignore you?

Fortunately, they might feel just as uncomfortable as you do. Granted, this doesn’t solve your problem or theirs, but at least it levels the field. And because none of you have lived in a cave until now, you all know how social interactions should go. You say “Hi!”, they say “Hi!”, a few days go by, you get used to their presence, you start talking about the weather and so on. As this goes on, the level of anxiety and awkwardness starts decreasing, and you might even become friends.

Long story short, we need and like structure because it makes us feel safe. It offers us the sensation that we are in control and that we decide if we ever want to take a risk. Time structuring offers us a model of interacting with others in such a way that we get to (or at least seek to) satisfy our core needs.

time structuring, eric berne, transactional analysis, structure hunger

Each person will go through these ways of interacting with others differently. While some people are more introverted, enjoying withdrawal more than anything else, others will seek out games in almost every relationships they have. And just like Maslow stated that only few people reach self-actualization, Berne believed that we only spend 2% (at most) of our lives in a state of intimacy. Of course, many people disagree with both Maslow and Berne.

time structuring, pie chart, table, eric berne, transactional analysis

Stewart & Joines, TA Today (1987); Redrawn by Rob van Tol; Redrawn by Psychology Muffins

How would your time structuring chart look like? Are you happy with it, or would you like to change a few things?

If you want to read more about time structuring, here’s Vann Joines and Ian Stewart’s book, TA Today:


Criss M.

Psychology Major, Transactional Analysis trainee, English tutor, book lover and hopeful dreamer. Favorite book: Le Petit Prince

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6 thoughts on “Time Structuring in Transactional Analysis

    • Thank you. :)
      There are no hidden motives in intimacy. The 2 people interacting are being authentic and presenting themselves just the way they are, without imposing themselves on the other person. In other words, “This is who I am, and this is who you are, and we are both OK and there is enough space for both of us in this relationship.”
      I think the whole T.A. theory could be used to describe intimacy, as there are no games, no discounting, no invitations to symbiosis or defense mechanisms involved in intimacy. This is also the reason why the risk is so great. It’s like you open yourself completely in front of the other person and you’re completely vulnerable. Of course, for it to really be intimacy, the other person has to do the same and then they are just as vulnerable.
      I’m sorry for the long answer, I hope this answers your question. :) I will probably write a separate article about this, and maybe that will offer a more comprehensive picture.
      Thank you for stopping by! Have a great night!

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